Two hundred years ago, in a prophetic book envisioning a twenty-first-century world ravaged by a deadly pandemic, Mary Shelley considered, insisting that amid widespread death and despair, we must seek peace in the “murmur of streams, and the gracious waving of trees, the beauteous vesture of earth, and sublime pageantry of the skies.” A century later, Willa Cather — another immensely talented, immensely underappreciated novelist and poet laureate of the human spirit — contemplated and located it in those moments when immersed in nature, we find ourselves “dissolved into something complete and great” — a line now emblazoned on Cather’s tombstone by her partner.
In another half-century, Wendell Berry (b. August 5, 1934) — one of the great poets and wisest elders of our time — arrived at this elemental truth, a truth we so quickly lose sight of in those times of despair when we most need it, articulating it with his uncommon tenderness and clarity of vision in the title poem of his 1968 collection( ), composed under a thick cultural cloudscape of despair — at the peak of the Cold War and the Vietnam War, after the successive assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Dr. King, in the wake of Silent Spring and its for our broken relationship with nature.
Berry — a rare seer into those subterranean landscapes where nature meets human nature and a rare voice of our collective ecological conscience — reads the poem in this breathtaking short film, produced byand illustrated by English artist .
THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS
by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I at the least sound
in fear of what my may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
At the last— my charitable celebration of science and the natural world through poetry — On Being creator and host Krista Tippett read Berry’s poem with a lovely prefatory meditation on how poetry gives us the language to remember our creaturely nature, which in turn reroots us in the more extensive web of belonging as “creatures among creatures”:
Complement with Wendell Berry on, , his conscience-clarifying poem and Krista’s soul-saving with him, then revisit two kindred-spirited animated poems: Marie Howe’s and Linda France’s